"We cannot resign ourselves to thinking of the Middle East without Christians, who have professed the name of Jesus for 2,000 years.”
Those words, spoken by Pope Francis in 2014, are words to live by for members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. The Order, a public association of the faithful which falls directly under the Holy See, is dedicated to preserving the Christian faith in the Holy Land. Divided into lieutenancies and delegations, it has approximately 30,000 members, both clergy and laypeople, in 36 countries around the world.
The Portland Diocese falls within the Northeastern Lieutenancy, which also includes the Archdiocese of Boston, and the dioceses of Manchester, New Hampshire; Burlington, Vermont; Providence, Rhode Island; and Fall River, Springfield, and Worcester, Massachusetts. The Northeastern Lieutenancy has more than 800 members and, in November, invested 65 new Knights and Ladies, 27 of them from Maine. The new members include Father Francis Morin, pastor of Saint Michael Parish, Augusta; Father Daniel Greenleaf, pastor of the Parish of the Holy Eucharist, Falmouth: Deacon John Guerin from Holy Family Parish in Greenville; and Deacon Timothy Dougherty from Saint Paul the Apostle Parish in Bangor.
“It’s a beautifully historic part of our Church, and it’s nice to be a part of it and to know that we’re pulling together to support the presence of the Church in the Holy Land,” says Father Morin. “It’s a witness.”
“I wanted to become a member because of the turmoil in the Holy Land,” says Deacon Guerin. “It’s an organization that is worldwide and puts forth their charitable talents to help out in the Holy Land, so I thought that would be a nice way to be a Christian.”
“I think the Order can make a difference,” says Bob Schwartz, a Cathedral parishioner. “I think it can really make a difference with the poverty and what goes on over there with buildings and schools and helping kids and what not.”
“I like the fact that they help over in the Holy Land. I want to be a part of that,” says Lisa Dougherty, wife of Deacon Dougherty.
The investiture ceremonies were held at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland, bringing together approximately 370 Knights and Ladies. Cardinal Seán O’Malley, O.F.M., Cap., the Archbishop of Boston, who is Grand Prior of the Northeastern Lieutenancy, celebrated the Mass during which the investiture ceremony was held, and Bishop Robert Deeley presided over a vigil service. They were joined by four other bishops from around New England.
Both the cardinal and bishop spoke of our call as Christians to be generous and merciful to others.
"We must learn to make sacrifices for the love of God and neighbor. We must learn to do difficult things out of love. Sometimes, it might be giving money to someone in need, forgiving someone, or giving them a second chance. Sometimes, it means spending time with a lonely person,” Cardinal O’Malley said. “It is also means seeing the poor, the sick, the homeless through Jesus’ eyes and not seeing them as a nuisance or a statistic or an inconvenience.”
“The road to the heavenly Jerusalem is to be found in the way we live our faith – with fortitude and with generosity, special virtues of the Order of the Sepulchre, as we work to spread the Gospel through the example of our lives and through the generous gestures of mercy we offer to those we encounter in the journey of life,” Bishop Deeley said. "The work that is done by the Order is the very heart of Christian faith and mercy. It brings hope and joy to a people who often feel abandoned and alone. It is a current and important work of mercy.”
The roots of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem date back more than 900 years to the days of the Crusades, although the Order long ago ceased being a military organization. The modern era of the Equestrian Order began in 1847. When the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem was restored by Blessed Pope Pius IX, he also reconstituted the Order, giving it the responsibility of supporting the work of the patriarch, the Catholic archbishop responsible for the Roman Catholics living in Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Cyprus. The knights and ladies of today crusade for equality, justice, and peace in the Middle East through prayer and financial contributions. The Order supports churches, seminaries, schools, hospitals, and social institutions. Some schools and seminaries would not exist if it were not for the Equestrian Order.
Despite its modern-day mission, the Order has retained some of the rich symbolism from its past. The investiture ceremony, for instance, includes the presentation of the spurs and sword. Cardinal O’Malley held up spurs as a “symbol of your Order for the honor and glory of the Holy Sepulchre” and then displayed a sword, saying, "Receive this sword that must remind you to defend Christ's Holy Church."
During the vigil service, Bishop Deeley blessed the capes, mozzettas, and stoles of new members, praying that the knights and ladies would “be valiant in upholding the rights of the Church and in defending and propagating the Christian faith.” The capes, white for men and black for women, bear the red cross of Jerusalem, which is comprised of a large cross surrounded by four smaller ones. It is an ancient way of depicting the cross of Christ and is representative of the five wounds of the Lord, as well as the suffering in the Holy Land.
Members also receive insignia, adorned with the Jerusalem cross, which indicate the rank which they have attained within the Order. The vigil service included a promotion ceremony, during which Bishop Deeley blessed the insignia and presented them to those rising in rank.
To become a member of the Order, someone must be nominated by a Knight or Lady. Members must be active in parish or diocesan ministry and should have an active interest in the needs of people in the Holy Land. Those entering the Order are expected to make a lifelong commitment.
"It's fine to go to church every Sunday. I think we should all do that, but I think, personally, that I want to do a little bit more, add a little bit more to my life spiritually, and the Holy Land means a lot to me," says Angel Soutuyo, a new knight, who is a Cathedral parishioner. "They're going through a lot with the terrorism and the bombings and what is going on over there. It's a very sad situation."
“I think it is kind of like one of those things you really can’t say no to…because of the persecution that is going on in the Middle East, specifically the Holy Land,” says Mark Cloutier, from Saint John and Holy Cross Parish in South Portland.
The new Knights and Ladies from the Diocese of Portland say it was especially meaningful to be invested during a year in which the ceremonies were held in Maine.
“It is so joyful to have this wonderful celebration here at the Cathedral. We are so privileged that everyone came here to share this joy,” says Karen Harrison, a new member who is a Cathedral parishioner.
“It was very special,” says Ellen Jordan from the Parish of the Holy Eucharist. “It was far more emotional than I thought it would be…the chills -- I don’t know if you could describe it. God’s presence was there, and it was one of the most moving experiences that I’ve ever had.”